The NSW Legislative Council which first opened for business in 1824 has never witnessed anything like it. Overnight the upper house was shut down by Government Ministers and won’t resume for a long winter break of 69 days.

After losing a series of votes during the day, the Government Leader of the House, Police Minister Tony Kelly, moved a special adjournment motion just 12.30 am this morning to adjourn until 2.30pm on September 1.

He gave no warning of his move and offered no explanation. Opposition Whip Don Harwin tried to move an amendment that the House hold its scheduled sitting today.

Kelly’s response was to pick up his papers and walk out of the chamber followed by Attorney-General John Hatzistergos.

As they scuttled away, the President of the Legislative Council, Peter Primrose, interrupted Harwin and declared that as there was no minister in the House it stood adjourned.

“Order! In accordance with precedent, as there is no Minister or Parliamentary Secretary in the House, I will now leave the chair until the ringing of the long bell.”

When Primrose left the chair shutting down the House, Liberal frontbencher Catherine Cusack was overheard protesting to her stunned colleagues: “It must be the longest long bell in the history of the parliament. We haven’t officially adjourned, we are in limbo.”

Greens MP Lee Rhiannon said this morning: “The Upper House had been expected to sit today and consider a range of bills, including the state lotteries privatisation legislation.

“The closure came after the government lost a number of votes on motions and amendments to legislation.

“It looked like the government had lost control of the Upper House and the move by Mr Kelly to gag debate and force the House into early recess just added to that impression.”

The succession of defeats were inflicted by the two Shooters MPs Robert Brown and Roy Smith who sat in their upstairs parliamentary offices and refused to vote in support of several government measures as they came up for consideration.

They began non-cooperation after Premier Nathan Rees and Deputy Premier Carmel Tebbutt persuaded Cabinet to oppose Shooters’ legislation which would have vastly increased recreational hunting in National Parks and game hunting reserves.

As reported in yesterday’s Crikey (NSW Shooters’ Party MPs stick up Premier Rees), the Cabinet decision infuriated Smith & Brown and they have responded with a dummy spit of far-reaching political implications.

Having spent the past 15 years relying on the votes of far right elements like Fred Nile’s Christian Democrats and the Shooters, Labor is undertaking a political realignment with the Greens who hold a power-broking four seats.

This change is both pragmatic and smart. It is the only way the Government can unfold its legislative program with any degree of certainty and it will create better conditions to reach a preference agreement with the Greens — currently polling a very healthy 14 per cent — for the next state election on March 26, 2011.

The nasty personal abuse of the Greens which became a feature of the upper house when Michael Costa was Treasurer has ended and so has Labor Ministers’ disgraceful tolerance of Fred Nile and his religious, ethnic and gender phobias.

Rees, Tebbutt and the premier’s chief of staff Graham Wedderburn are steering Labor in another political and electoral direction.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey